NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A forum of scientific advisors established by the government warned Indian officials in early March of new and more contagious coronavirus strains in the nation of scientists. Medicine, five people who were part of the forum told Reuters.
Despite the warnings, four scientists said the federal government did not try to impose significant restrictions to halt the spread of the virus. Millions of undisclosed people attended religious festivals and political gatherings organized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata party leader and opposition politician.
Tens of thousands of farmers, meanwhile, are still camping on the edge of New Delhi in protest against Modi’s change in agricultural policy.
The world’s second-most populous country is now struggling to have a more severe second wave of infections than last year, which some scientists say is being accelerated by a new variable and another that has been detected at times. First in the UK India reported 386,452 new cases on Friday, a global record.
The sharp rise in infection is India’s biggest crisis since Modi took office in 2014.It remains to wait to see how his manipulation could affect Modi or his party in politics. The next general election is due in 2024.Most of the latest local elections have been completed before the new infection spread.
The warning about the new variant in early March was issued by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium or INSACOG.It was conveyed to a senior official reporting directly to the prime minister, according to a scientist who is director of the northern research center. Of India speaking of the condition of anonymity Reuters was unable to determine whether the INSACOG findings were forwarded to Modi itself.
Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
INSACOG was set up as a scientific advisory platform by the government in late December specifically to detect strains of the coronavirus that may threaten public health. INSACOG put together 10 national laboratories that can study virus strains.
INSACOG researchers first detected B.1.617, now known as the Indian virus strain, in early February, Ajay Parida, director of the state’s Institute of Life Sciences and member of INSACOG, told Reuters.
INSACOG shared its findings with the Department of Health’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) before March 10, warning that infections could rise sharply in some parts of the country, director of the North India Research Center told Reuters. The findings were then forwarded to the Indian Ministry of Health, the person said. The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Around that day, INSACOG began making a draft of media statements for the Ministry of Health. A Reuters-visible draft states the Forum’s findings: A new Indian strain has two major mutations in part of a virus that binds to human cells and has been investigated in 15. % To 20% of the sample from Maharashtra, India’s hardest hit state
The draft statement said that the mutations, known as E484Q and L452R, were “of great concern”, saying that “there is information about the E484Q mutant virus, which has escaped highly neutral antibodies in the culture, and that the L452R mutation has been identified”. Affects the increased diffusion capacity and immune escape.
In other words, basically this means that the mutated version of the virus is more easily able to enter human cells and counter a person’s immune response to it.
The ministry released the findings to the public about two weeks later on March 24, when it released a statement to the media that did not specify the words. The statement specifically said that the more problematic variables needed the following measures, which were underway – increased testing and quarantine. The test has almost doubled to 1.9 million times a day.
Asked why governments are not responding more stringently to the findings, for example, by limiting large-scale gatherings, Shahid Jameel, chairman of the INSACOG scientific advisory group, said he was concerned that officials were not paying attention. Enough evidence as they formulate the policy.
“Policy has to be evidence-based, not otherwise,” he told Reuters. “I am concerned that science is not considered to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists, we provide evidence that policy-making is a duty of the government. ”
The director of the North India Research Center told Reuters the draft documents were sent to the country’s most senior civil servants, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, who reported directly to the prime minister. Reuters was unable to learn whether Modi or his office had been notified of the findings.Gauba did not respond to a request for comment.
The government has taken no action to prevent protests that could accelerate the spread of the new strain as new infected cases increased four times by April 1 from the previous month.
Modi, his senior representative, and dozens of other politicians and opposition parties held nationwide rallies for local elections throughout March and April.
The government is also allowing the Kumbh Mela religious festival attended by millions of Hindus since mid-March. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of farmers were allowed to camp in the outskirts of New Delhi to protest the new agricultural law.
To be sure, some scientists say this trend is much bigger than expected and that setback cannot be solely tied to political leadership. “There is no point in blaming the government,” said Saumitra Das, director of the Institute of Biological Sciences. National physicians, part of the INSACOG, told Reuters.
Does not take strict measures
INSACOG reported to the National Center for Disease Control in New Delhi, NCDC Director Sujeet Kumar Singh recently told private online rallies that a stringent blocking action was required in early April, according to the memo of a meeting examined by. Reuters
“The exact time, in our opinion, was 15 days earlier,” Singh said at a meeting on April 19, citing the need for tighter blocking measures.
Singh did not say during the meeting whether he directly warned the government of the need for action at the time. Singh declined to comment to Reuters.
Singh told a rally on April 19 that he had recently informed government officials the urgency of the matter.
“It was very clear that without drastic measures now it would be too late to prevent the deaths that we were about to see,” Singh said, referring to the meeting held. On April 18, he didn’t Identify which government officials are in the meeting or describe their seniority.
Singh said some government officials at the meeting were concerned that medium-sized cities might see laws and ordering problems due to essential supplies such as oxygen depleted, a situation that has already begun to play in parts of India.
The need for urgent action was also demonstrated last week by the National Working Group for COVID-19, a group of 21 experts and government officials set up in April to provide scientific and scientific advice. Technically to the Ministry of Health about the epidemic, VK Paul, Modi’s top coronavirus consultant, is chaired.
The group had a debate on April 15 and “unanimously agreed that the situation was serious and that we should not hesitate to impose blocking measures,” said one of the participating scientists.
Paul joined the discussion, according to the scientists. Reuters was unable to determine if Paul relayed the group’s conclusions to Modi. Paul did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Two days after Singh’s April 18 warning to Modi government officials addressed the country on April 20, disputing the shutdown. He said getting out of prison should be a last resort in the fight against the virus. Two months of leaving India’s national job last year left millions of people out of jobs and devastating the economy.
“We have to save the country from being blocked. I will also ask states to use lockdowns as a last resort, ”Modi said. By the agency to control the epidemic
India’s government has broad latitudes in formulating health policies for their regions, and some have taken steps independently to try to control the spread of the virus.
Maharashtra, the country’s second most populous state including Mumbai, imposed tougher restrictions such as the closure of offices and shops in early April as hospitals lack of beds, oxygen and drugs. Full lockdown is scheduled for April 14.
‘TICKING TIME BOMB’
The Indian breed has now reached at least 17 countries, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Iran, prompting governments to block borders from people arriving from India.
The World Health Organization has not declared India to be a mutant. It was a “worrying variant” as it did for the breed first detected in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. But the World Health Organization said on April 27 that early modeling in the genome sequence suggested that B.1.617 had a higher rate of growth than other circulating varieties in India.
It also detected a UK variant called B.1.1.7 in India by January, as well as in the northern state of Punjab, a key center for farmers’ protests, said Anurag Agrawal, senior scientist at INSACOG. With Reuters
The NCDC and some INSACOG laboratories say the massive increase in cases in Punjab is due to a UK variant, according to a statement by the Punjab state government on March 23.
Punjab is set to leave the country from March 23, but thousands of farmers from the state remain at protest camps on the outskirts of Delhi, with many moving between the two before restrictions began.
“It was an exciting time bomb,” said Agrawal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, which has studied some samples from the Punjab. B.1.1.7 was a very bad variable in terms of transmission potential. ”
By April 7, more than two weeks after the Punjab announcement of the breed in the UK, coronavirus cases began to rise in Delhi. Within days, hospital beds, critically ill facilities and medical oxygen began to run out in the city. In some hospitals, patients die of suffocation before being treated. The city’s crematorium overflows the corpse.
Delhi is currently experiencing one of the worst infection rates in the country, with more than three out of 10 tests positive for the virus.
In total, India has reported more than 300,000 infections per day in the past nine days, the worst in the world since the outbreak. The death toll rose as well, with the total exceeding 200,000 this week.
Agrawal and two other senior government scientists told Reuters that federal health authorities and local Delhi officials should be better prepared after seeing what these strains do in the state. Maharashtra and Punjab Reuters was unable to determine whether any specific warnings were issued about preparing for a major power surge.
“We are in a very dire situation,” said Shanta Dutta, a clinical research scientist at the state’s National Institute of Cholera and Bowel Diseases. “People listen to politicians more than scientists.”
Rakesh Mishra, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, part of INSACOG, said the country’s scientific community was depressed.
“We could have done better, our science could have been more important,” he told Reuters.
Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav, Aditya Kalra, Jatindra Dash and Zeba Siddiqui; Edited by Bill Rigby.